Apr 152012
 

Not quite sure what that title will do to my search rankings, and it’s maybe just as well I don’t have any ads on the blog. Perhaps I should explain though.

Marrying my brother-in-law was one of a number of recent ‘firsts’. And, of course, I mean that it was the first wedding ceremony I officiated at. No pressure of course: first time officiating, in front of family, lots of overseas guests, in the Signet Library, seriously ‘mega’ do, Saturday of the Easter weekend (so nothing else to do anyway).

It was a great day, and there was something special about it being a family affair. It certainly wasn’t the case though of there being less pressure because it was family – if anything it was even greater. But as my first time officiating it was good to know that being family was all in the mix of making the day particularly memorable for all concerned.

But I was also able to look on the event with a ‘critical’ eye and have a few things mentally tucked away for future weddings. Little things like: make sure the pianist has all the music they need. Singing the Aaronic blessing unaccompanied, and with so few knowing it, was probably not a blessing on the hearers. Also, make sure the pianist (who was very, very good actually) is familiar with the hymns. Played too slowly, and in ‘piano-bar’ style doesn’t really work for hymns. And another: when you’re doing the ‘stole thing’ (thanks so much, Will and Kate), wrapping it around held hands, make sure that ‘leg’ is long enough to start with so that you don’t have to haul more stole round. There are plenty more tucked away in my head, but I’ll save my blushes.

Regardless, it all went well overall, and much of the nitpicking is me doing that over-analytical thing I do. One more though – I’ll not be rushing to book a wedding on Easter Saturday again though. By Sunday I was somewhat frazzled.

Another first?

Maundy Thursday was my first communion with my new charge. It wasn’t the ‘formal’ Sunday one I had thought would be my first, and so it was very different to what I had anticipated. On Maundy Thursday, one of my congregations has a meal moving into communion. Everyone sits around tables set up in the (relatively open) chancel area. There are a few hymns, a prayer and readings. Then there is a simple supper, at the end of which the sacrament begins.

It’s a very good way of telling the story of the Last Supper, and allows it to be very symbolic, with more than just the words telling the story effectively. In fact, the ‘narrative’ can be pared down significantly, without losing any of the story, which has, in effect, just been re-enacted. I suppose there’s scope for further dramatisation, but I think that risks detracting from the ‘simplicity’ of the service, and possibly getting in the way of the ‘event’ if not done exceedingly well.

The only thing I struggled with in preparation was wondering how to finish the service. I suddenly remembered though, one of the candidates’ conferences. Much to everyone’s annoyance it was held during Holy Week, but it was the only time available to fit it in. On the Thursday of the conference we had our evening meal, followed by communion (sound familiar?) and then I suddenly remembered how we finished. We went out into the garden and completed the ‘story’ of the events after that first Last Supper. So that’s what we did the other week. We went out into the church grounds (nice night, dry, under the trees, very quiet {the joys of a rural churchyard}) and read the rest of the story up to the point when the disciples all fled. No blessing, no more words. Just the symbolism of the assembled company dispersing. Who says there’s nothing to be gained from conferences?

And another first.

This time for the congregation. On Good Friday we had a Tenebrae service – something the congregation were unfamiliar with, but, according to feedback, very much enjoyed. I was a little sneaky though. There’s still a little bit of suspicion concerning the West Angus Area Ministry setup, of which I am, officially, a team member – it was part of what I was inducted into. Anyway, the area team decided that this would be the Good Friday evening service in Kirrie, and the other congregations were invited to attend. Other members of the team participated in the readings and so it was very much a WAAM event. Drip! Drip! Drip!

There have probably been a few more ‘firsts’ in recent weeks, but they’ve probably been overwhelmed by some of those ‘biggies’.

I wonder what the next ‘first’ will be? It surely can’t top marrying my brother-in-law!

Mar 252012
 

I still can’t quite decide which direction to take my blogging thoughts. But as this blog has been about thoughts and reflections on the challenges, events, and learning ‘moments’ of getting to this place, I suppose it makes sense to continue in similar vein. After all, getting to ‘this place’ was never an end in itself, but merely the place where the next part of the path opened up before me.

Anyway, here are some initial, somewhat random, thoughts on the first few weeks.

Perhaps the dominant thought at the moment is that I wish I had paid a bit more attention to certain things during placements or conferences. Not so much that I have come across things that are unexpected.It’s just that you hit that point of having to do them yourself and suddenly detail matters. You can remember in vague terms, or even in fairly clear terms, what a particular activity entailed. But what about the detail? What about the nitty-gritty of procedure? And does it actually matter here, or is it just a reflection of past practice? This is, in no way, a reflection on my supervisors or on the training, but simply a matter-of-fact note on my ability (or lack of) to retain ‘detail’ information.

Another passing thought concerns making things up on the hoof, as it were. I don’t mean inventing stuff, but I mean working out how and why you might want to do a particular thing. For example, I’ve now had two wedding arrangements to sort through and I’ve never given much thought previously to what I would like done, the specific words to use, or the precise order of things. But as I was going through options with folks, I realised that I would prefer a certain order to things because it makes more liturgical sense to me to do things in a particular order, or use particular words, or perform particular actions. And, of course, how do you respond to the request that begins, “We were thinking we’d quite like to…”? Because you can be pretty sure that it’s not something you’d thought of, and it will almost certainly push against that notional boundary you have. And it’s the, “we’d quite like…” that means that an awful lot of pre-planning can only take you so far. Unless, of course, you’re the sort of person who will dictate how it will be done. But that’s not me. Theology is much more fun than that.

I would dearly love to have a foolproof method of remembering names, and the faces they are attached to.

Bizarrely, I still actually enjoy doing funerals. There is no better sense of satisfaction than the one you get when someone says, “You summed them up just spot on.” It means I’ve listened and cared enough to get it right. And my hope, and prayer, is that they’ve sensed that ‘the church’ cares enough to want to do that.

Balancing the ‘squeeze it all in’ and ‘save it for another time’ in sermon-writing is still a challenge. Especially at the start when I’d like people to get a grasp of where I’m coming from. But settling in to the necessary time constraints of preaching in two places on a Sunday morning is a work in progress, and one where, I think progress is being made. Having only 50-55 minutes or so to squeeze a service into (if I want to spend any time with people afterwards) really focuses the mind.

I really ought to plan ahead a bit more. Diary events seem to hit the radar sooner than anticipated. I guess that’s just a matter of getting into routines and knowing what the ‘shape’ of any given period actually is.

Mark out time in the diary for family and leisure. We were told this so many times in conferences and by supervisors, yet it’s often the first thing that slips. Reminder to self – don’t let it!

That’s probably enough to be going on with. As always there are things that are not really appropriate to comment upon; at least not while they are still fresh. And there are plenty of things that have cropped up, been dealt with, and have passed by with barely a chance to register because the next thing has come in.

 

Mar 122012
 

Well, that’s just over two weeks in ‘the job’. Three Sundays, albeit one where I was preached in, two funerals, initial contacts with one of the primary schools, time with local colleagues, and lots of unpacking and manse-readying. Oh, and a rapidly filling-up diary.

If I was being totally honest, I would have to say that it still feels very much like the honeymoon period is in its early days. I’m probably getting off very lightly at the moment, but that’s fine. It’s time being used to settle in. And attempt to tune my ear to the local accent. I suspect people are just being very polite and speaking ‘properly’ around me, because when I hear the locals speaking together I wonder if it’s a different language. Mind you, Kirriemuir itself seems to attract a lot of ‘incomers’. It is, without a doubt, a beautiful part of the country and is eminently commutable to Dundee, Perth, and even places like Aberdeen if you don’t mind a longer drive. It’s well-served with amenities and not too far from places like Forfar if you need a bigger supermarket. You can hit the huge retail park on the north edge of Dundee in under half an hour. A drive through Edinburgh or Glasgow to somewhere similar is probably shorter mileage, but possibly longer in time.

So living here in Kirrie is not a great hardship. Mind you, I’m writing this in Falkirk as I’ve popped back down to load up the car with more bits and pieces.

Settling in comfortably to a new living place certainly makes it easier to settle in to the main reason I’m here at all – ministry. Like I say, I haven’t been overly-burdened so far (maybe I shouldn’t admit that publicly) and that has given me an opportunity to reflect on what I have been doing.

Two ‘proper’ Sundays is not enough to evaluate how things are going generally, but they have still provided enough of a challenge to think about things.

Yet again, sussing out the hymn repertoire of two new congregations is fun. That said, they’re both very good at giving it a go. You know it’s a new one to them by the near silence on the first verse; but there’s certainly a lot more volume by the last. Prayers have been appreciated and commented upon. The children are great to work with, but present some interesting challenges too. we’re both ‘unknown’ to each other and it’ll take a little while to build up a rapport.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the time constraint between the two services. It means sermons are shorter than I would usually do – well, if I want to fit in the same number of hymns, etc. That’s a good discipline to say things more succinctly and perhaps get to the point more quickly. I’m still very guilty of trying to squeeze too much in and will also need to ‘tone down’ the ‘level’. That’s not any criticism of the congregations, but of me. My ‘fallback’ position when I’m not so sure of what to say, is to make it too academic. It’s where I’m most comfortable and is perhaps a way of not wanting to make things sound too basic. Once I get to know folks better then I’m sure the right level will be found.

Actually, on a related note – I was asked if I might consider re-introducing the mid-week Bible study group. That’s certainly something I’d want to do, and might even, depending on who’s up for it, convene in more comfortable and convivial surroundings. That’s maybe one step too far at the moment, but you never know.

And the relatively quiet start has also allowed me to think ahead a little bit. Not that I’ve spent any time preparing anything, but just beginning to get my head round some of the medium-term issues which need addressing.

So, all-in-all, definitely settling in. And very much looking forward to what’s ahead.

Feb 262012
 

Well, rather a lot has happened since my last post. I’d been meaning to slip in a few little updates since announcing my ordination and induction, but it always seemed I had so much to say and never quite enough time to sit down and order my thoughts into a coherent blog update. Now there is just so much to try and condense into a few thoughts it feels like a bit of a mammoth task, but one that I feel I ought to do to make note of the significant events of, well, the last few days at the very least.

Since I intimated the ordination and induction date almost a month ago, life has been a bit of a whirlwind of preparation and decisions. Stuff for the service, for the move, for the ‘job’ – it has often felt like the time passed in a complete blur. Some of it was frustrating – knowing that something had to be sorted but couldn’t be until something else fell into place. It also meant that there was a growing ‘intensity’ of activity as the ordination date loomed. But, one by one, pieces fell into place, things were decided upon and arrangements were finalised.

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Jan 222012
 

I suppose that over the next wee while I will experience lots of ‘firsts’ as I take up the reins in my first charge.

But there can be few ‘firsts’ quite so special as being invited to officiate at the wedding of a family member. One of the slight added pressures of getting into a charge was the request to conduct the wedding of my brother-in-law and his fiancée. However, the charge has arrived in good time and so I will be able to do the honours in due course.

So, last night was an opportunity to sit down with them and go through the order of service. Of course, never having done one of my own before, it was an interesting experience working out what was to be included in the liturgy, and why (and where). I know the CofS doesn’t hold to a sacramental view of marriage, and I’m happy with that, but I’ve recently been wondering about how we lift a marriage service beyond the ‘legalities with frills’.

I was slightly surprised to discover that the couple wanted something solidly Christian and with ‘gravitas’ (not the word used, but fitting). I was also keen to create the liturgy in such a way that the ‘congregation’ were more involved, or ‘invested’ in what was happening.

I think what we’ve come up with works really well. I suppose it’s loosely based on the 2nd order in Common Order, but definitely only loosely and with other bits thrown in. Broadly speaking, after the first hymn, and a short preamble, we’re into a reading (1Co 13:1-8, nothing original, but by request). This is followed by a short reflection setting the context of Christian marriage in the bigger picture of God’s love and restored relationships (a bit of a hobby-horse theme of mine at the moment) – relationships we are all part of. This then leads to the unifying recital of the Apostles’ Creed. On this basis of God-reflecting, loving relationship, we move into the marriage ceremony itself, finishing that part with a sung Aaronic blessing. There’s then a specially written choral piece during which we may or may not go and sign the schedule, then it’s a prayer, Lord’s prayer, 2nd hymn and benediction.

I like the ‘shape’ – the way it establishes a Christian foundation that is inclusive. I like the way it encourages participation – this is not ‘just’ about two people, but of a much bigger set of relationships. I also like the way that it manages to combine a ‘high’ approach with inclusivity (well, I think it does).

Downside is that it is quite lengthy, but the view of the bride is that it is this part that is the focal point of the day and if that means shaving 10 minutes off the drinks reception immediately afterwards, then so be it.

I doubt that this will become my standard liturgy, but having had this first go at one, and ensuring that it is ‘special’ for people I particularly care about, it has been a very helpful ‘first’. I think it’s really only when you do your first liturgy for anything that you really question why something is there, and why you are using particular words, and why it flows the way it does.

Like I say, it’s the first of what, I’m sure, will be many firsts. Not all will be so pleasurable, but all will be a challenge to ensure God is properly ‘included’ and given His proper place.

Oh, I didn’t mention that the wedding is on the Saturday of the Easter Weekend. Hopefully that will be a first, and last.

Jan 162012
 

At least I’m beginning to know what to think. After the ‘confusion‘ of last week, I am pleased to report that that has now given way to a mixture of excitement and trepidation – and there’s no confusion; that’s exactly how I feel.

Sunday was the ‘big day’, preaching as sole nominee at Kirriemuir: St. Andrew’s l/w Oathlaw Tannadice (must program a shorcut key to type that lot) [oh, and I’d link to the website but it seems to have exceeded some quota or other and isn’t working – an opportunity to move it to some more reliable, free hosting {me, in other words} I think]. Did it all go smoothly? No! I had a few glitches, of my own making. Managed to skip a hymn, but that helped claw back some time since I’d gone on a bit long, and so we finished on time after all. Struggled a bit to connect with the kids on the second service. Forgot to take water to the pulpit so had a bit of a dry throat at one point. And various other little hiccups that probably weren’t really noticed, or if they were, people were too polite to say so.

But, in the end, none of that mattered. The votes were counted and a unanimous decision was returned. We heard the enthusiastic applause as the result was announced and received the same when we went out to say hello officially. I can say that I was utterly overwhelmed. The warmth of the welcome and the enthusiasm was obvious and I still couldn’t quite believe that they had accepted me.

The rest of the day passed in a bit of a blur. We had lunch with some folks from the churches and had a good look round the manse. I think my brain had shut down by that point and I was running on autopilot. By the time we got home I was absolutely shattered and felt totally drained.

It’s really only today that it has started to sink in that it’s time for a change. As messages and calls of congratulation hit the pone, txt, email and Facebook, the sense of joy and excitement gradually started to make its way into my own head and I’ve been going around in a mild state of euphoria for most of the day. There’s still a slight sense of unreality about it all. The whole process must be the most bizarre way of getting a job anywhere. There’s always one more ‘thing’ to happen it seems. For me now that is settling on a date for ordination and induction. That’s likely to be the 23rd of February, but the date’s not fixed yet. That’s far enough away to give me time to prepare, but scarily close to realise that real life, and real ministry, kicks in very soon. That’s the trepidation part.

But, for now, I can enjoy the setting aside of confusion and think about what an exciting next phase of life and ministry is about to begin.

Jan 092012
 

With less than a week to go until I preach as sole nominee at Kirriemuir: St. Andrew’s l/w Oathlaw Tannadice, I find my emotions and thoughts in a state of turmoil. In a very real sense I don’t know what to think.

There’s the natural anxiety of preparing for such an event (and all my classic stress triggers and reactions are there); yet the rational part of me is saying that I’m not doing anything different to what I would do any other Sunday morning I’d be leading a service. And of course that’s true – it’s just that’s there’s the added pressure of knowing that two congregations will be deciding if I am to be their minister for the next while. (And that in itself is a somewhat bizarre situation – voting based on an hour leading a service to determine who will be involved in their life for far more than that.) But leading services is what I have done, in large part, for quite some time and I know that I am perfectly capable of doing so competently. And so there is a mix of anxiety and confidence and that it exactly what I would expect, so, in a sense, it’s what I would expect to be thinking and is not, therefore, a problem.

So where does the problem lie?

Everyone has been enormously supportive and I have had all the usual ‘it’ll all be fine’ comments from lots of people. And there’s a big bit of me that says/knows that, yes, it will all be fine. And that’s the root of the problem, I think. I don’t want it to feel that it’s a foregone conclusion. There’s a bit of me that feels that that is almost arrogant (but not really), yet it’s born of a confidence, not only in my competence, but the unanimous decision of a nominating committee, the good references from previous supervisors, and even the words of encouragement from people associated with the vacancy itself.

Oh yes, there’s also the big issue of ‘call’. After all, that’s the very root of my being here in the first place. And even that all feels ‘right’, for reasons I’ve explored in other posts and for all sorts of other reasons I haven’t mentioned but all affirm this call, and this place, and this ministry.

When all these things are brought together it’s difficult not to feel confident and positive about the whole thing. But I don’t, as I’ve said, want that to tip over into arrogance. And I don’t think it will. There’s still enough humility there to hold me back (I think, and even though it doesn’t necessarily sound like there is) and there’s also a sense in which this confidence has its proper ‘place’.

I was praying about this very issue and about my conflicted emotions and as I did so, I sensed an overwhelming affirmation of being in this ‘place’, emotionally. It’s difficult to explain – it was, itself, a rush of ’emotion’ that was both uplifting and humbling; a sense that it was understood, and accepted, and ‘allowed’, and was, therefore, ‘right’.

So I will, no doubt, continue to walk my tight line of confidence and humility. And I will continue to feel conflicted about it. But I can stop over-analysing it. It’s not something to be picked apart and have a decision made one way or another. It is simply how I am and who I am. It’s also good to know that who I am and how I am right now is quite fine with God, who calls me. Now that does sound arrogant, but I can’t help myself.

Jan 012012
 

I’m not given to writing retrospectives, so this isn’t a look back on last year (which was, to be fair, eventful enough). Rather, this marks the start of a year (and more) of very new things indeed.

I’ve also been a bit reluctant to blog about the most recent developments in my application process. The last time I blogged it was to note that things were progressing. Well, they have now progressed to the point where I shall be preaching as sole nominee on the 15th of January at Kirriemuir: St. Andrew’s linked with Oathlaw Tannadice. The main reason I’ve been reluctant to blog about it is that I don’t really want to settle into a sense of complacency about it, or to give any sense of it being a foregone conclusion. It felt that writing about it would be, in a bizarre sense, a betrayal of trust. However, it’s now public knowledge that I will be preaching as sole nominee and so, admitting it here isn’t a big deal. That said, I still don’t want to feel complacent about it, despite the reassuring noises from all and sundry.

As that date races into view though, and as phone calls and emails start coming in to make tentative arrangements for an ordination and induction, the reality of major upheaval in the near future is beginning to dawn on me. There’s the logistics of moving – but having to keep the current house going so that school can be finished. There’s also the daunting prospect of settling into a first charge – getting to know people, avoiding upsetting familiar routines (initially anyway), planning, doing, rushing around mad wondering why on earth I ever thought this was a good idea.

There’s a bit of me that wants to hold back and hide behind the idea that ‘it’s not settled yet!’ After all, I still have to be voted for by the two congregations. and yet, when I get a church calendar in the post, with the encouraging message that it’s for my new study, then it all seems a little less daunting (if still somewhat presumptuous) and I can let a bit of the excitement sneak through. And I am excited. I’ve met some of the people and, I think, made a good connection – one which I’m keen to develop. The area is beautiful. The churches are keen to develop. There’s some great work being done as part of a wider area ministry. School chaplaincy work. And the list goes on. All exciting and appealing.

In may ways it’s not what I had initially been looking for, but any so many more ways, it’s more than I’d considered. And perhaps the biggest clincher is that it has been received very positively by everyone in the family. That’s always been a big part in my discernment of the ‘you’ll just know’ advice that has come from many quarters. And that’s exciting too, because it is vindication of lots of advice and direction and prayerful consideration.

So, a new year; soon a new start. But, first things first – I still need to decide what to preach on on the 15th.